The ingrained corruption of Iran’s IRGC and Quds Force
Instead of empowering and emboldening the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps through a renegotiated Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, the international community should hold the organization and its elite Quds Force branch accountable for their crimes inside Iran and abroad, as well as for their corruption.
A leaked audio recording last month exposed large-scale corruption within the IRGC, along with its financing and support of militias, mercenaries and terror groups across the Middle East. Radio Farda reported that the recording suggested that some of the country’s most powerful decision-makers were aware of or involved in corrupt practices, prompting a furious reaction in Tehran, including from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Significantly, the state-owned Fars news agency confirmed the authenticity of the clip.
Top Iranian figures such as parliament Speaker Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf are implicated in the massive corruption scheme. When he was Tehran mayor, Qalibaf reportedly asked an official to “sign a phony contract with the IRGC in an attempt to cover up an 80 trillion-rial (about $2 billion at the time) shortfall discovered during an audit of the Cooperative Foundation.”
This has caused public outrage and confirmed the belief of the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people that the regime squanders their nation’s resources on militia and terror groups rather than helping its own people. One of the major reasons for the recurring protests in Iran is the people’s frustration over the regime’s mismanagement of the economy and the country’s resources.
A considerable part of the economy and Iran’s financial systems are owned and controlled by the IRGC and the Office of the Supreme Leader. The IRGC alone controlsbetween a third and half of Iran’s gross domestic product. It owns several major economic powerhouses and religious endowments, such as Astan Quds Razavi in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
The Iranian people believe the regime squanders their nation’s resources on militia and terror groups rather than helping its own people
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The IRGC and the Quds Force are in charge of extraterritorial operations, including organizing, supporting, training, arming and financing predominantly Shiite militia groups; launching wars directly or indirectly via these proxies; fomenting unrest in other countries to advance Iran’s ideological interests; attacking and invading cities and countries; and assassinating foreign political figures and powerful Iranian dissidents worldwide. For instance, the Quds Force was in 2011 accused of a failed plan to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, and attack the Saudi and Israeli embassies.
Corruption is ingrained in Iran’s political and financial institutions, which are the country’s backbone. According to Transparency International, Iran ranks a lowly 150th out of 180 countries with respect to governmental transparency concerning financial transactions. In 2021, it was given a very poor score of 25 out of 100.
Embezzlement and money laundering within the banking system are prime examples of corruption. In addition, corruption takes place by granting loans, financial benefits and fellowships to relatives of senior officials or those who show their loyalty.
If the government really wanted to fight corruption, the first step would be to properly enforce article 142 of the Iranian constitution, which states: “The assets of the Leader, the President, the deputies to the President, and ministers, as well as those of their spouses and offspring, are to be examined before and after their term of office by the head of the judicial power, in order to ensure they have not increased in a fashion contrary to law.”
Any extra revenue that the regime gains from the lifting of international sanctions would, firstly, be funneled to the IRGC and supreme leader. The second priority of the regime involves exporting its revolutionary ideals to other countries, advancing its hegemony in the region and ensuring the survival and empowerment of its militia and terror groups, which are mandated to promote the regime’s interests and ideology across the Middle East.
This means that state and nonstate actors, such as the Houthis, Hezbollah, the Shiite militias in Iraq and Bashar Assad’s Syria, would be the next major beneficiaries of any sanctions relief. Of course, since corruption is rampant within the Iranian government, some regime officials would also benefit from any sanctions relief and increased trade. The regime could also be expected to spend some capital on enriching its loyalists domestically and empowering groups such as the Basij in order to detect and crush dissent and any potential uprising.
In summary, the international community must hold the Iranian regime’s mafia-like institutions, the IRGC and the Quds Force, accountable for their crimes and massive corruption.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh